Now hear this, business executives: Uncle Sam wants you. Unfortunately, however, he may not be able to find your phone number, or figure out what to do with you when he gets you.
In fact, according to the General Accounting Office, even if you already have volunteered to serve in an emergency, Uncle Sam may not know what kind of work you do, and it's possible he hasn't even talked to you since you signed up.
That is the gist of a new GAO report on the condition of the National Defense Executive Reserve program, a little-known relic of the Eisenhower administration and the cold-war era.
In theory, the NDER is to management of the federal goverment what the Army reserve is to the Army--a cadre of managers who could be called up and put to work in an emergency. In reality, according to Rep. Berkley Bedell (D-Iowa), who released the report, the NDER "is in serious disarray and in its present condition would probably add to, rather than help control, problems that could arise" in a national emergency.
The NDER consists of about 2,000 bankers, engineers and company executives who are available to be called up and assigned to government management positions if needed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The members are due in Washington Monday for a three day conference--originally scheduled to be held in 1981--at which Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and several other senior govenment officials will discuss their role in the nation's emergency preparedness.
The GAO, however, noted that, "For the NDER program to be effective, federal agencies need to determine the locations where NDER members are needed and the duties they should perform." Only 15 federal agencies have agreed to form NDER units, and only seven of those actually have identified the jobs the reserve executives would be called on to do, the report says.
GAO noted that, after it issued two previous unfavorable reports, FEMA began taking steps to improve NDER training and to recruit up to 8,000 additional members. However, the organization's "data base continues to have serious deficiencies," GAO said.
GAO found wide discrepancies in membership lists and many cases of missing "vital information." At least 25 percent of all members' files reviewed by GAO lacked home phone numbers, security clearances or designation of type of business and "primary skill" of the members. Furthermore, most of the records are not kept "in a fashion that might survive a nuclear war," the report noted.
In a letter to Bedell accompanying its report, GAO noted that "FEMA is generally aware of these problems and has begun taking actions to address some of them. Therefore we are not making recommendations now." A spokesman for FEMA said the agency agrees that the executive corps has been afflicted by disorganization and lack of direction, but he said corrective measures are being taken, as the GAO noted.
The Executive Reserve, on which the government spent an estimated $1.13 million last year, was not always so obscure. President Eisenhower, addressing members at a meeting in 1957, said they were a vital part of the "enormous machine" of national defense. Richard Nixon, then vice president, urged the members to use their influence to aid the economic development of poor countries, lest they fall under communist influence and "bring the Free World to its knees."
Late in Nixon's own presidency, in 1974, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson charged that Nixon had used the NDER to reward "fatcat" campaign contributors by making them members of what he called "an elite reserve unit, who would immedately step into top defense jobs in 19 federal agencies if war should break out."